Although, I am a big fan of true crime and murder mystery TV (Murder She Wrote, Quincy, Jonathan Creek, all that 90s jazz) I have never been a big fan of classic crime literature like Agatha Christie, but have been trying out a few different crime writers in the last few months. I don’t know what it was that attracted me to The Inugami Curse all those years ago before the lockdown started, but here we are.
As I am sure many of you will empathise with, I have struggled to focus the past few months reading anything new wasn’t working for me. I tried to make my way through a series of different non-fiction books, never making it more than half-way through. Books can be a way to learn but are also an escape, a door into another world far disconnected from where you are. All this to say, I arrived at the Inugami Curse’s door a little helpless and certain that no book could distract me from the dystopian isolation which I was living in.
Luckily, I was wrong. Over the course of a Friday and Saturday, I was sucked into the world of Detective Kosuke Kindaichi. Before getting into that I would just like to commend the translation. As a very sloppy language student, I know how hard it is to convey tone and subtext in translation. Hours spent over Arabic language translations, I was never able to pick up on the layers of the deeper meaning behind the author’s words, even idioms escaped my notice. More recently in an English language class I was teaching, it wasn’t until I read a text out loud to my students that they were able to pick up on the sarcastic intonation that was so clear to me reading in my first language. I have never had to convey deeper meaning in another language, but I have vivid memories of trying and failing to tell a joke in German in Berlin, it is often taken for granted that we can access such a wide variety of beautifully translated texts. I have nothing but the deepest respect for Yumiko Yamakazi’s ability to convey tone without relying exclusively on adjectives.
Yamakazi’s translation brilliantly conveys the tension and bitterness enveloping the Inugami family after the death of the patriarch Sahei Inugami. Although there is some language which feels outdated, this exemplifies the time period and the author rather than the translation of this 1951-published book. Early on there is mention of a ‘homoerotic’ relationship which is simultaneously jarring and intriguing. Later in the story, it is referred to as a homosexual relationship which felt less awkward, but still confusing particularly since it did not add any depth to the character and the reader is given little else to go on. The constant reference to female characters’ beauty (or lack thereof) is tedious by the end of the book. From the beginning this felt unnecessary to the story, however, it does give insight into the time period in which it was written. While there are these clunky sections I was still drawn in by the story and characters (I also definitely want a spin-off prequel about the homosexual affair between a wannabe businessman and holy man).
As I said I came to this book with little expectations, I had spoken to some Japanese friends about reading it who said the author was well known and there had been a lot of adaptations of their books, but as none of them had read The Inugami Curse, I was coming to it blindly. As with any good book in a series, The Inugami Curse works as a stand alone book, it doesn’t go into any lengthy backstories to explain characters, yet even without that I quickly felt familiar with Kindaichi. Even as someone who had never come across the series, or in all honesty had approached a ‘classic’ crime series, the solitary P.I. Kindaichi in a picturesque location with a mysterious message felt like the literary equivalent of a home-cooked meal after years away. Although The Inugami Curse has about as much subtlety as an episode of Scooby-Doo it is punctuated with intriguing plot twists, beautiful scenery descriptions and a menagerie of oddball characters.
There were some areas I did need to google to understand what was happening. A key point in the plot begins with a discussion of a groundskeeper making chrysanthemum dolls which are incredibly creepy life size humans dressed in flowers, imagine Madame Tussauds but flowers. However, I was struck more by the universality of this genre than the cultural differences. The Inugami family are divided by their desperation to inherit Sahei Inugami’s wealth, Sahei leaves behind a will which further exacerbates the tension and is a catalyst for mysterious murders. Although, the base ingredients are familiar the progression of the story is intriguing and as Kindaichi meets the family and its associates the family’s history is unveiled.
For a book set in a foreign country and set in the 1940s and published almost 70 years ago, I felt surprisingly comfortable in Detective Kindaichi’s world. I would definitely recommend it to distract you from the sour milk stain that is our current lives.
The Inugami Curse
By Seishi Yokomizo
Translated from the Japanese by Yumiko Yamakazi